A System for This Pick-Six Winner? 'No Way' : 62-Year-Old Del Mar Patron Breaks Record, Cashes Ticket for $555,609.50

Times Staff Writer

Pete Escalante couldn't find a seat at Del Mar Racetrack Saturday, but the 62-year-old Rancho Penasquitos resident will remember standing in Section 16 for the rest of his life.

He will also remember his six winners: Earthdust (paid $17), Select A Song ($32.80), Doctor's Tribute ($4), Julie The Flapper ($19.80), Breakfast Table ($13) and Sharrood ($7.80).

Those six winners, in races two through seven, gave Escalante a Del Mar record $555,609.50 Pick Six ticket. The previous Del Mar mark was $202,261.80, set on Aug. 7,1985.

Escalante, a retired federal government planner and estimator, said he bought two tickets. The winning ticket earned him his record payday and a $4,547.20 consolation prize. Escalante's winning $4 ticket had one extra selection, Havatry, which ironically, finished last in the seventh race.

After taxes, Escalante took home a check for $448,126.00. He's not sure what he and his wife Virginia are going to do with the winnings. First they'll travel to Hawaii, his wife's birthplace.

"I've never won more than several hundred dollars in one day," said Escalante, who has been coming to Del Mar since the early 1960s. He comes to the races six or seven times a summer. "And I really haven't played too many Pick Sixes."

What was Escalante's strategy Saturday?

"As far as any kind of system, no way," Escalante said. "I took a quick glance at the (racing) form before we left the house. I was standing in line for 20 minutes while my son-in-law was trying to get us reserved seats and I made my selections then."

Escalante said he was influenced by jockeys and trainers. Laffit Pincay Jr. won three of the six races and trainer John Gosden saddled two of the winners. He also bet on longshot Select A Song with jockey Bill Shoemaker and trainer Don Pierce.

"I wasn't about to leave that one out," said Escalante, who is a big Shoemaker fan.

After he had won five races Saturday, Escalante said he "started getting a little excited. And when I saw him (Pincay) leading the pack (in the seventh race), I said, 'We got it.' "

But Escalante was still apprehensive. After all, it's the other guy that always seems to win the big money.

"I kept saying, 'We better check this,' " Escalante said. "My daughter sent her husband to get me a beer."

Escalante didn't call his wife at home to tell her the news, and she was out when a very happy threesome arrived at the house.

When his wife got home, Paul said, "We hit for five today." She yelled out, "$5,000?"

Escalante called out, "No, $500,000."

Virginia said she was sure they were pulling her leg. Sunday, it all hit home as Escalante cashed his ticket.

Monday, Escalante, his wife, daughter and son-in-law returned to the track. Yes, he bet a Pick Six. His first pick, Swappin Sin, won the second race.

"That's a good beginning," Escalante said. "That's the way we started the other day."

But Tri Holly, his pick in the third race, finished sixth. His next four Pick Six choices also failed to win.

Betting was almost secondary Monday as the four of them celebrated in the Turf Box, where they were the guests of the track. And where Escalante had no trouble finding a seat.

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